Murray Wenzel
February 17, 2022 12:46PM



(Last season 6-2 in AU, 1-4 in Trans-Tasman)

Dan McKellar's final year in charge will provide extra fuel for the side controversially pipped after the siren in last year's domestic final against the Queensland Reds. A horror trans-Tasman draw gave them few chances to shine. Breakout Test seasons for Len Ikitau and Rob Valetini see them return as headliners but there is no shortage of pedigree in Canberra.

* Fijian Drua

(Super debut)

A pre-season win over the Melbourne Rebels combined trademark counter-punching flair and some impressive set-piece work. Boasting Olympic gold medallists, based on the NSW north coast and due to play out of Brisbane, the newcomers will carry the hopes of a nation and be fun to watch under storied coach Mick Byrne. Former Blues pivot Baden Kerr, who also spent time with Saracens, will be the side's only Super Rugby-capped player in round one.

* Western Force

(4-4, 0-5)

Have handed the playmaking keys to 20-year-old Brumbies recruit Reesjan Pasitoa, the returning West Australian talent among five handy additions from Canberra this season. They've added starch elsewhere too with Wallabies lock Izack Rodda a difference-maker and depth on the bench. Will begin from their Gold Coast base but hope to make Perth a stronghold upon their return.

* Melbourne Rebels

(3-5, 0-5)

A spate of injuries have the Rebels starting the season on the back foot, with high-profile quartet Andrew Kellaway, Rob Leota, Trevor Hosea and Pone Fa'amausili all missing this weekend. New coach Kevin Foote has backed another young No.10 Carter Gordon to fulfil his precise, up-tempo style while Matt Toomua, Reece Hodge, Matt Philip and Joe Powell provide the experience.

* Queensland Reds

(7-1, 1-4)

Confident of building on last year's domestic success by proving to be more competitive against the New Zealand outfits. Alex Mafi's return from injury at hooker could be key, while James O'Connor and Tate McDermott will be hoping to make their case for a Test partnership in the halves. Taniela Tupou is a different beast in the front row while their backrow depth is second-to-none.

* NSW Waratahs

(0-8, 0-5)

Look a different side to the one that lost every game last season. Ben Donaldson is another young No.10 given his chance, while centres Izaia Perese and Lalakai Foketi could break games open behind a pack powered by Angus Bell, Jed Holloway, Carlo Tizzano and Lachie Swinton. Michael Hooper's return after a couple of weeks will give them a timely second wind.